Between talk about Canada’s ample location shoots and buzz around developing studio facilities, the country’s thriving music scoring scene can be overlooked.
But many players in the Canadian music industry insist that Canucks are good at more than just scoring on the ice.
The country has an abundance of skilled composers, and heaps of attractive incentives for producers who are striving to maximize a tight production budget, says Marvin Dolgay, president of the Screen Composers Guild of Canada.
“We have an enormous (number) of musicians and composers,” he says. “To survive here as a music composer you have to be able to do a little bit of everything — and do it well.”
That spirit has helped establish Canada as a low-key, but reliable, alternative to Hollywood recording studios.
Over the years, Canadians have laid down music for countless successful pics that have utilized tax incentives, as well as domestic TV co-productions including “Flashpoint” and “Sanctuary.” The country’s recording studios have also handled portions of work from productions that shot outside Canada, including “District 9.”
Whether a film is using Canadian tax credits for its shoot, or simply looking for other ways to squeeze more out of less during post, there are several incentives to consider.
For pics setting up base in Canada, hiring a local composer will propel a production toward meeting the requirements for federal tax incentives. Domestic composers can qualify as one point on the 10-point scale, and would qualify for tax breaks on labor expenses. The Screen Composers Guild offers assistance in the selection process, which includes access to its online composer database.
Further savings can be made when taking advantage of the Canadian Content Production Rules, which allow producers to make a full buyout under the Canadian Federation of Musicians. The agreement gives producers all the rights to ancillary markets for the soundtrack, without restrictions.
Chip Sutherland, a longtime manager of such Canadian musicians as Feist and Sloan, says those cost-saving incentives can be paired with some of the country’s best musicians.
“It’s not like Canada is a B-team, there’s tons of first-class talent,” he says.
Sutherland has put his confidence on display for seven years during the Toronto film festival, hosting the Festival Music House, a showcase of domestic talent with high-quality music already available for producers.
“No one has a budget for music, ever, so looking to Canada is really good value for the money,” he says. “There’s terrific music here and it’s very reasonably priced.”
Sutherland points to recent efforts from alt-rocker Brendan Canning, founder of Broken Social Scene, as a prime example of where Canadian music thrives today. Canning has penned original music for numerous films, including “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” and he’s known for working on a tight budget while using cutting-edge technology.
Despite the long list of incentives for outsiders, some Canadian industry players say it has been a struggle to persuade producers to stay in Canada to score.
One composer says often filmmakers want to shoot the movie and then head back to their families, rather than mull around in the editing and scoring processes far from their home, while some U.S. producers are convinced it’s cheaper to score in the U.S.
Hal Beckett, a Vancouver-based composer, says some West Coast projects head to nearby Seattle where labor costs for their non-union orchestras are roughly on-par with Canada, factoring in current exchange rates.
“If we had a weak Canadian dollar it would be a different scenario,” he says.
Other international producers have found a loophole in the tax credit system that allows Canadian citizens to work outside the country as long as they’re still maintaining residences up north.
But Dolgay suggests that producers should consider that the cross-border relationship can work both ways.
“Technology has made it possible for producers to work with a composer in Canada as if they were in their own region,” he says.
“However, working with a composer is about relationships and trust. I would like to see both communities, U.S. producers and the Canadian composers, reach out to each other more so that these relationships can be built and nurtured.”